The Book: A 74-page graphic novel telling the story of an ordinary British couple – he works in IT, she works in Marks and Spencer – who, when on holiday in Spain, stumble across an abandoned consignment of cocaine. Endeavouring to smuggle it to Britain themselves, they enlist the help of hapless “Him’s” brother to help them, pursued by the consignment’s owners and the police…
The Review: Smuggling Vacation by Jason Wilson and Tony Spencer is, put simply, one of the best independently published British humour comics I have read in a long time.
With no small tip of the hat to the kind of European bande dessine-style storytelling found in the pages of strips such as Joe Bar or Asterix, but with a definite adult sensibility, this tale of two hapless British tourists who find a huge stash of illegal drugs in Spain and attempt to smuggle it home is a comics gem.
In their attempts to bring a tonne of cannabis stashed away on a Spanish beach, “Him and Her” incur the wrath and pursuit of the drug gang whose stash they’ve taken; and become the focus for a huge (and, largely, hapless) police surveillance operation.
The story also reveals some of the lengths criminal gangs go to in trying to smuggle drugs across Europe, and the steps the police and customs take to stop them.
Along with a very funny script Smuggling Vacation, which has been serialised in Weed World magazine, creates a wonderful set of characters, many based on real life crime figures – the 75-page story being the end product of a two-year collaboration between convicted hashish smuggler Tony Spencer and former animator Jas Wilson.
Wilson says that he and Spencer had planned such a book for some years, but it wasn’t until Spencer made the front page of Spain’s ‘El Sun’ newspaper and he had received six years for smuggling hashish that there was time available to work on it. Wilson then began working with Spencer via scores of letters containing sketches, scripts and drawn pages, sent back and forth between Spencer at Valdemoro prison and Wilson’s makeshift cartoon studio.
Smuggling Vacation takes the dealers, growers, black marketeers and smugglers they both knew – although names have of course been changed to protect the guilty and we’re told the originals were often far more intimidating! – and makes them the stars and cast in the tale of two Brits abroad who come across the opportunity of a lifetime.
Blending a real world background with well-realized fictional characters – Him and Her surely a young George and Mildred in the making – the story takes readers on a roller coaster race across Europe, from a surprising discovery on a Spanish beach to a cross channel ferry, with Jason’s extraordinary attention to detail in his superb art.
With fantastic storytelling throughout, the book may have European influences but the best of British humour comics, from the Beano to the best of Knockabout Comics, exemplified by cartoonist such as Hunt Emerson, surely helped shape its pages.
This is a funny, well drawn, well researched and written humour comic with terrific characters and characterisation, that deserves success after the huge effort Jason and Spencer have put into getting it onto book shelves. Available now from the Smuggling Vacation web site (where you’ll also find details of signings, background to the making of the book, a gallery and more), it’s also available from Smallzone and and selected bookshops.
• UPDATE: A sequel, actually titled Day of the Deal was released in May 2010. Read all about it here